Students these days are inundated with a world full of negative images, whether through social media, television, or peers. The school environment can be an extension of that world, or it can be a safe haven of strong relationships, kindness, generosity, and tolerance. So how, as teachers, can we create such a positive learning space? How can we strengthen and build the classroom community on a firm foundation?
One program that has been implemented in schools across the country is Positive Behavior Support, or PBS. PBS is most often led by a school guidance counselor, and it focuses on three key elements: “Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Cooperative.” It is a multifaceted approach that encourages students to learn how to respect both teachers and peers, how to be responsible in regards to their own education, their friends and classmates, and at home, and how to be cooperative in an ever-challenging environment. Within PBS, students learn how to build up one another within the classroom, and understanding how to model the “3 B’s” strengthens the bonds between students who might not normally spend time together. PBS challenges students to practice kindness on a daily basis in the school environment!
One simple thing that a teacher can do to promote good relationships with the students is to sit down and create a set of classroom rules together. Instead of the teacher rattling off a list of rules like Santa with his Naughty or Nice list, involve the students in the process. Have a discussion on what it means to be a part of a classroom community. Ask the students how they would like to be treated by the teacher and by peers. Ask them how they want to treat their classroom space, their personal desk space, each other. It is important for the students to know that their voices are being heard, and that the teacher appreciates their input!
Student relationships are a critical part of classroom community success. If the students are kind to one another, the classroom will thrive! It is common for a class of eighteen or so students to be unfamiliar with one another. For younger children, sometimes not knowing a student can be a gateway to misunderstanding and intolerance. It is important that classmates know one another, so one way to strengthen the connections between students is to have them interview each other. Pair up students with a classmate he or she may not normally “hang out” with on a daily basis. Provide a list of questions (i.e. “Do you have any pets?” or “What was your favorite vacation that you ever took?” or “What would you do if you were invisible for a day?”) and let the students interview each other. When the interviews are complete, let each student introduce their interviewee using all of the answers!
Teachers are the role models for the students. The classroom community is built on the foundation that the teacher sets! It is important that as teachers, we demonstrate the behavior that we want to see within the learning environment. If an educator is kind to one student but not to another, the students will notice. If an educator is kind to ALL of the students with no bias, the classroom environment will flourish. Patience and tolerance are a huge part of helping kids feel safe the moment they step into the classroom. If students know that they are accepted for who they are once they walk through the threshold of your classroom, they will pay it forward to their classmates!
Above all else, to build the classroom community and fortify relationships, it is absolutely crucial that teachers listen to the students. All kids want to feel important, want their opinions to mean something, and want to share exciting or hard times in their lives. Teachers are great listeners by nature, but to truly hear what the student is saying can make a difference. It is sometimes what the student is not verbally saying that is most important, and teachers have to listen in more ways than just aurally. Listen to the students’ struggles and offer advice. Listen to the students’ accomplishments and moments of excitement and celebrate with them! The more the students realize they are being heard, the more they will trust the teacher. But it doesn’t just end with the teacher—it continues on to the students and their relationships with one another. Always encourage students to listen to one another. Teach them to listen to understand, not to listen only to offer a reply.
A positive learning space is obtainable in so many different ways. Teaching kindness, generosity, and tolerance to build student-student and teacher-student relationships can alter the fabric of the classroom community for the better!
***You may also want to download this free resource for building classroom community. Promote kindness in your classroom by using a “Kindness Into Action” Jar! Print and cut out the task cards and label. Wrap the label around a jar and place the laminated task cards inside. Place the jar somewhere in the classroom where students can easily access the cards. Encourage students to read the task cards when they have free time or when misbehavior occurs.